Learn about it
Find out the benefits and the potential impact screen time can have on your child and insights from parents, children and experts on the issue.
What’s on the page
Screen time is the amount of time that someone spends using a device or computer, watching television or playing on a games console. Although managing this is important, focusing on the type of activities that children are doing online is essential. A recent report suggested using the Goldilocks method – ‘not too little, not too much but just the right amount’.
One in three Internet users online worldwide is under 18 according to UNICEF report
41% of parents of 12-15s find it hard to control their child’s screen time according to the latest Ofcom Children and Parents: Media use and attitudes report 2017
According to Oxford University research of 20,000 parents of children aged between 2 and 5 screen time limits may have nothing to do with a young child’s ability to thrive
Taking a step back and looking at research as a whole, the impact of screen time’s on children’s wellbeing is still being debated, however, now more and more experts suggest that we should focus more on what children are doing online and less on how long they are online.
Benefits of screen time
- Online games and activities can enhance teamwork and creativity
- The internet gives children access to a wealth of information to help build their knowledge
- Interacting with computers improves both visual intelligence and hand-eye coordination
- Technology takes away physical barriers to social connections – which is important for children who find it hard to make friends or have special interests or special needs.
- Children in households with computers perform better academically than peers who do not have ready access to computers.
- Outcomes for children are better if they benefit from connected technology.
Potential risks of too much screen time
What do children say about their digital use?
The positive role of the internet
Young people recognise the positive role of the internet in relation to self-expression, developing understanding, bringing people together and respecting and celebrating differences.
- 47% of young people use technology to support and promote respect and kindness (e.g., liking or sharing someone else’s post, posting supportive comments and signing an online petition).’
Impact of social media
As children get older social media takes centre stage particularly as they make the transition from primary to secondary school.
- Research suggests that children believe social media can have a positive effect on children’s wellbeing, and enabled them to do the things they wanted to do, like staying in touch with friends and keeping entertained. On the other hand, it had a negative influence when it made them worry about things they had little control over
According to Ofcom research children listed the following as their top concerns:
- Too many online ads (particularly for 8 – 11-year-olds)
- Spending too much time on social media
- The Nature of how some people were nasty and unkind on social media
Exposure to upsetting content
- Children said they were most likely to come across upsetting content on video sharing sites like YouTube and social media sites.
What do parents say about children’s digital use?
Parents highlight the following concerns about the potential of harm the online world can expose their children to:
- Talking to strangers
- Sharing personal information with strangers
- Impact of social media on child’s mental wellbeing
What do parents want to better support children?
- To understand what parental controls are and how to use them
- More support on the Language and tone to adopt when speaking to own children
- A clear destination for online safety information
- Greater support from schools to reinforce the message
Source: Parenting Digital Natives (2018)
Challenges to managing screen time
Although two-thirds of 12-15s (67%) agree that they have a good balance between screen time and doing other things, and more than half of 12-15s disagree that they find it hard to control their screen time (53%).
Source: Ofcom Children and parents media use 2017
What do experts say about screen time?
How we should view screen time now
“…rather than worrying about the catch-all notion of ‘screen time’ it might be better to focus on whether, when and why particular digital activities help or harm individual children.”
Source: Sonia Livingstone
The idea of screen time as a one-dimensional activity is changing -The Common Sense Census: Media Use by Tweens and Teens identifies four main categories of screen time.
- Passive consumption: watching TV, reading, and listening to music
- Interactive consumption: playing games and browsing the Internet
- Communication: video-chatting and using social media
- Content creation: using devices to make digital art or music
Source: Common Sense Media
What are children were doing online?
Ofcom stats of what they are doing – children are doing different things when they are in front of a screen:
- 96% watch TV for 15 hours a week
- 40% play games on a screen for 6 hours a week
- 53% go online for 8 hours a week
- 48% watch YouTube